It’s not often I’m jealous of my friends in the North when it comes to gardening. After all, here in glorious Zone 8a we get plenty of sunshine, nice long growing seasons and, for the most part, rainfall is more than satisfactory. My strawberries have been harvested weeks before New England has finally shaken the snow off its boots and I might even still find a fresh tomato or two into October. Somehow, I can still find room to complain. Today it’s about rhubarb.
The celery-like red stalks of this a vegetable with the sensibility of a fruit, may not seem like the stuff of baking, but peel away the toxic leaves and toss it in sugar and the tart goodness of rhubarb is something I start to crave just about the time the strawberries start to come in. Planted in the spring or fall, this stuff grows well and will return year after year. Up North. Here in 8a, not so much.
Rhubarb needs a good stretch of cold weather in the winter (under 40 degrees) to break dormancy for spring growth and when it does get going, a run of hot summer days (over 90) will kill it. That’s all well and good for y’all up there in Maine or Michigan, but it’s a tough row here in North Carolina. I’ve heard tell of Southerners successfully growing rhubarb in pots they move around or finding the perfect shade to combat the heat of summer, but I haven’t seen it.
If any fellow Southerners are making a rhubarb crop work for them, I’d love to hear about it. For now, I hang my head low as I sneak into the grocery store to get my spring fix, shipped in from Northern climes.
For you lucky Yankees, this is a great time of year to break out the pie bird for a classic rhubarb-strawberry pie or a tart cobbler like no other. One of my favorite uses for rhubarb is this sweet and tangy rhubarb crisp. Easy to make without having to master the art of pie crust and served with a little vanilla ice cream, it’s irresistible.
6 cups rhubarb, leaves removed and cut into 1/2" pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into ½” pieces
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup rolled oats
Toss sugar, rhubarb and lemon juice in a bowl and pour into an ungreased 8” or 9” baking dish.
Combine flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a food processor and pulse until coarse and dough begins to clump (do not over process).
Add oats and pulse to combine.
Cover rhubarb evenly with topping.
Bake 55-60 minutes at 375 degrees or until lightly browned.